After facing criticism that his early picks for Cabinet and top agency positions for his second term made the White House look like a boys' club, Team Obama 2.0 is shaping up to have at least the same gender diversity as his first-term team.
With the president's announcement Monday that he's nominating Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the Office of Management and Budget and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, he has lined up six women to serve in top positions in his second term.
If Burwell and McCarthy are confirmed, they would join three other powerful women in the administration: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations. Obama also has nominated Sally Jewell, president and CEO of outdoor and recreational retailer REI, to be his next Interior secretary. A seventh woman, Rebecca Blank, serves as acting Commerce secretary. Obama's first-term team included six women as Cabinet secretaries or heads of agencies.
Obama also needs to find permanent replacements for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"Making sure their Cabinets reflect the country is a challenge presidents face," said Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics. "I think his picks show he is committed to that, but I also think it's true that people appoint people they know and are comfortable with, and I think that is also reflected in his appointments."
The first four nominees he announced after re-election were all men, triggering a wave of criticism from some Democrats and women's groups. He nominated John Kerry to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA and White House chief of staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. He also elevated Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser in Obama's first term, to serve as White House chief of staff.
In January, the National Organization for Women (NOW) called on members to write the president and let them know about their concerns "that the current trend in your Cabinet appointments has excluded women and people of color."
Terry O'Neill, president of NOW, said in an interview Monday that Obama deserves credit for appointing more women and minorities to top posts than his predecessors, but she's still concerned that his inner circle remains overwhelmingly male.
"The advisers who have access to his office -- that walk into his office and talk policy on (a) daily basis -- half of those have to be women," she said.
Obama, who has boasted of diversity in his White House and noted that he has picked two women for the Supreme Court, bristled at the suggestion that he was excluding any group. "I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointments before they rush to judgment," Obama said during a news conference Jan. 14.
At the staff level, the White House has maintained close to a 50-50 split along gender lines since the president came to office.
"I think we are seeing a better set of diversity than we had in the past," said Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. "The reason that is important is we're going to get better policy outcomes."
Obama also announced Monday that he's nominating Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ernest Moniz as Energy secretary. Moniz was undersecretary for Energy during the Clinton administration; he also served on Obama's Science and Technology Advisory Council.
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